Apr 4, 2007

justification of the 1000-calorie diet

"I'm aware of all the physiological implications for severely cutting calories, but I have my reasons for doing so anyway."

That is the oft-repeated mantra that I've been telling the people critical of my 1000-calorie diet. In this post, I am going to do my best to explain the reasons. I'm not sure if I can explain this well, because it's something that might be a result of gut instinct or emotion rather than rational logical thinking - however - there are rational, logical reasons why I'm doing this. If they don't appear to be good enough for the naysayers, just get that there are also "emotional gut-instinct" reasons for doing this that cannot possibly be effectively articulated, especially in a blog post.

Like I said, there have been many people advising me not to do the 1000-calorie thing. I know that they have good intentions, and I guess that's the reason why I feel the need to post this explanation.

Here are a few examples:

pointedem: "There is one main reason why this is self-defeating. Your body will go into "conservation mode", and instead of revving up your metabolism (goal), you will actually slow your metabolism down. You may lose several pounds at first, but I can guarantee you will quickly hit a plateau with your weight loss." "every valid method to get healthy/ lose weight is going to tell you that cutting back to 1000 calories a day is self defeating and will leave you without energy."

Bernardo: "yeah, that's a good way to completely kill your metabolism and gain an extra 100lbs after you can't keep it at 1000calories/day."

cloudpeak: "For someone your size, 1000 cal/day guarentees that you're going to binge. I'm 5'7" and female, and on a 1000 cal/day, I'd be desperate for food all day long." "At your size, you probably burn almost 3,500 calories per day just sitting around. If you cut 500 calories/day and added a little exercise, you should be able to lose a pound a week and keep it off."

yentna: "just want to put out a caution. Restricting your calories too much isn't very healthy. I.e. less than 1500 calories a day when working out can cause harm to your body and slow your metabolism rather than speed it up."

and, my own mother: "Eating too few calories like that will put your metabolizm into starvation mode. When you go back to normal or even diet calorie amounts for your size, you will gain the weight back super fast."


what is amusing to me about all the above statements is that I'm aware of everything everyone has said. You see, I have done a considerable amount of studying and research related to fitness in general, and, unless you have a degree in nutrition or exercise science or read fitness and nutrition journals on a regular basis, there's a good chance that I know at least as much as you do. I don't say that to toot my own horn or to say I'm better than you, but rather just to point out that - yes - I know. So lets take a few criticisms and address them directly.

The main point of all the above posts seems to be metabolism, and how I'm not accomplishing the goal of revving it up. the problem with this logic is that revving up my metabolism is not a goal of mine - and while I'd prefer of course not to slow it down, that is not only inevitable as I'll explain later, but something that I'm totally prepared to live with. My plan of focusing on the caloric deficit - eating less calories than you burn - is the underlying idea behind nearly every diet in existence. In theory, if you burned 3500 calories more than you ate, then you'd lose 1 lb of fat. In practice, your metabolism does slow down as you eat less - so just eating 3500 less calories in your diet is not the same as cutting 3500 calories. But I also want to caution against overstating the effect of metabolism. How much can you alter your own metabolism, in either direction? 2%? 10%? 50%? Most people have no idea, I don't really know either, but I do know that people with a lot of knowledge are likely to severely overstate it because a small daily change of, say, 50 calories less burned, translates into a huge amount of weight gained over a period of time. I do seem to recall reading somewhere that you can slow your metabolism by 100-200 calories per day.. for a normal person. translated into a guy my size, that perhaps means I'm burning 300-400 calories less per day than I do when I'm eating normally - Or maybe even more, since by eating too much, I've revved up my metabolism by that much in the opposite direction - so I could be burning as much as 800 calories less a day than I do during a weight-gain phase.

How accurate is this line of thinking? Different sources put my BMR at different numbers - but it seems to be that, if I laid down flat all day long, I'd burn 3000-4000 calories per day, just because of my size. Factor in lifestyle and I'm pushing 4500-5000 calories a day. If I exercise, add another 500-1000 calories. What I have found in this diet is that I'm losing weight rapidly - over a pounds per day - which is translating into an average caloric deficit of about 4000 calories! Most days, I am eating 1000 calories, which means I'm burning about 5000 calories per day. Naysayers might point out that the 5000 calorie number is going to drop, ignoring that I have already been doing this a while - but even if it does, how much difference is that going to make? even if they grossly overestimate it to be a 1500 calorie drop in metabolism, I'd still be losing 5-6 lbs a week when eating 1000 calories per day! And regarding a long-term drop in metabolism? Well, that brings me to the next disadvantage - muscle loss.

When your body needs energy, it metabolizes glycogen. If the glycogen supply in the muscle and bloodstream is exhausted, or if the body is not in a particularly active state, it will instead metabolize fat, a process that takes longer. If fat doesn't cut it, however, a process called gluconeogenesis will occur, in which amino acids (proteins) are broken down by the liver to be transformed into energy. If you smell ammonia for no apparent reason, that is why. Your body gets protein from two sources - food and muscle. Muscle loss is seen as a huge no-no by many weight loss experts, because muscle, being metabolically active, effectively increases your metabolism just by being there.

To be certain, I am losing muscle every day that I'm on a 1000 calorie diet. I will be able to estimate how much muscle I'm losing in another month when I have some reliable long-term bodyfat analysis data to work with. Some people would think that I am nuts. These people don't realize that a 225-lb guy doesn't need the huge legs in his muscle that a 350-lb guy needs. I can't put on my gaiters because my calves, composed of rock-hard fat-free muscle, are too large. I also want to have a build suitable for endurance sports - not power lifting. I want to go outside and run hills, climb mountains, ski bumps. I want agility. I want speed. Lance Armstrong said that when he came out of chemotherapy, the muscle-burning effects of the drugs actually made him into a better cyclist - and that he was cautioned by his trainers to not do any sort of exercisethat would develop his upper body, like swimming, because he would get some unneeded extra muscle and that would hurt his cycling. Bottom line - I *want* to lose some muscle because that is consistent with my goals.

And that means that my metabolism will be permanently slowed - I will be burning less calories every day. If I were to gain 10 lbs, it would go on a lot faster when I'm 225 lbs than if I was 350 lbs. Of course, I'll be burning a lot less calories anyway, because it takes more calories to get a 350-lb guy around than it takes to get a 225-lb guy around. But the effect is enhanced by the absence of metabolically-active muscle. This amounts to the fact that if I am going to lose 100 pounds "and keep it off," I will have to make a permanent change to my lifestyle. I think that a lot of people who go on diets subconsciously assume that they're temporary. They can go on the diet, lose 30 lbs or whatever, then resume their normal diet (that got them 30lbs overweight), and assume that they'll keep the weight off. I am very aware of the fact that I can never resume my previous diet again. I have yet to decide what that is going to look like, because I'm only focusing on my diet right now - what is relevant right now is the next concern - that a 1000-calorie per day diet is going to cause me to binge.

Binging is a particular worry of mine because I have done it before. My entire lifestyle for many years was basically constant binging, and that's how I ended up 400 lbs back in 1997. So what is causing me not to binge this time? Well, I suppose the circumstances of the diet - that it's a competition - make a difference. There's a set end-date; that helps. I have a lot of support that helps. It's not the time of year when I would binge (like T-giving or christmas). But most of all, I think that there is simply an intense desire for the lifestyle that I would need to be in good shape to live. I can't explain it any better than that.

There is one thing that would cause me to abandon the 1000-calorie thing and maybe eat more - mental effects, particularly feeling light-headed. That hasn't happened though.

Now that I've written a rebuttal to the conerns, let me tell you why I'm doing it this way:

I have more than 100 lbs to lose. That's a lot of freakin' weight! I have read about other people who have successfully lost that kind of weight. One thing that I kept noticing (and having the same concerns as the people above had), were that they went on extremely-restrictive diets, usually liquids only, of about 800 calories a day, for a period of several months. This caused them all to lose a tremendous amount a weight initially and got them to a state where they could actually be active. The highest-profile person to do this is the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, who has now run several marathons. I've referred to him in this weblog before. He is quoted as saying that when he was fat, he was afraid of an impromptu interview at the top of the steps to the capitol building, because he would be so out of breath from the ascent that he couldn't talk. Now, being the Governor of Arkansas, he had a tremendous amount of resources at his disposal - including that of dietitians and personal trainers, who presumably are experts in the field. They are the ones that recommended this diet to him. Of course, he's not the only one - and every now and then, an article will pop up in Runner's World, talking about a man who did something similar in the same way. They usually had dietitians telling them what to do. Being that I don't have the money to pop for a dietitian, and that I wanted quick results, I decided to mimic what I understood about this forumula, and combined it with my own knowledge of nutrition to make sure that I was still getting the proper nutrients - for example, I eat a lot of soy, because I know that soy contains all the amino acids that I need. I also make sure I get the minimum of most every vitamin and mineral.

You see, there are a couple of distinct advantages to doing it this way. Because I am concentrating on maintaining an extremely high caloric deficit, my daily weight loss actually almost exceeds the margin of error present in a bathroom scale. I get up every morning, take care of naturally-occurring bodily functions, then weigh myself, and my weight has been lower every single day that I expected it to be lower. Seeing daily results like that is extremely encouraging, because quantifying that is much easier and objective than saying to myself, "gee, these pants seem a little looser than yesterday." And it's coming off fast - a pound or more every day. I remember thinking at 319 that "never again will this scale be above 320." Didn't seem long ago, and now, not only am I saying the same thing about 310, I'd have to hold a brick for it to read 320. (Can't wait for that to happen with 300!)

But there's another aspect to the 1000-calorie diet that is particularly important to me - the discipline I'll develop by logging all the foods I eat, making sure I don't eat too much, and maintaining it for four months. Like smoking, overeating is a habit that is difficult to break - and it'll take an extended period of self-discipline to start to overcome the naturally-occurring need that I have to keep eating for pleasure, even when I'm feeling full. Discipline will still be required, of course, but it will be much easier to maintain. That is where the still-to-be-planned permanent lifestyle change comes in.

I am starting to develop a vague idea of what that will look like - what I can tell you is that there will be a concentration on healthy food - which is yet another aspect of this diet that is going to be good for me in the long run - when you are limiting yourself to 1000 calories a day, you look hard for the foods that will fulfill nutritional needs, give a feeling of satisfaction, and keep calories low. Turns out that these are the same healthy foods that I'll be eating when I start the permanent lifestyle in July. Soy is a big part of that, as is fish. Fruit is also in the picture. And when I do eat red meat, it'll be a reasonable-sized burger, not two monsters. I'll have two hot dogs instead of 4. I'll have 2 slices of pizza instead of 6. 1 bagel with cream cheese and lox, instead of 2. I'll occasionally allow myself those pleasures, but most of the time, I'll be eating soy (I particularly like edamame), fish, and produce. I am training my body to be satisfied with less food. And that is going to have to be a permanent change. Things that will completely be out of the picture will be salty snacks, french fries, etc. Super-high calorie empty snack foods will have no place in my future diet.

The need to lose weight quickly for motivation has already been covered, but there is another reason for rapid weight loss: On July 15, 2007, I'll be 18 weeks away from the Philadelphia Marathon, taking place on November 18th. In that 18 weeks, I'll engage myself in a vigorous training program, involving at its peak 50 miles per week of running. Last year when I did the Las Vegas Marathon, I managed 35 miles a week - but it was really rough putting a 325-lb frame through that much training. This year will be different - not only will I run more, but I will weigh less and therefore run faster and easier. But in order to accomplish that, I'll need to get this extra weight off pronto. That is the catalyst for this whole thing, and the reason for my goal of at least 100 lbs lost by mid-July.

Well, if you've made it this far, I appreciate that you took the time to read it. I hope you actually understood it - and absorbed it - because I find that people who continue to criticize this diet after I rationally explain myself really didn't listen to what I had to say. So assuming you did, I hope you understand why I am doing it the way I am doing it, and that your concern is alleviated. Even if it's not, at least you now know that I am approaching this from a rational perspective, as well as an emotional one. Even if you don't agree with what I said, hopefully you at least agree that it makes sense.

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